I became a “bad kid” when I entered my early teens. Defying authority, shitty grades. I had all kinds of low-self-esteem issues, but that’s standard for any child of an alcoholic. I was certainly lippy and insolent with my dad, Jim Wells — a Mad Man exec who worked for J. Walter Thompson. I regarded him as a gruff, flinty, foul-tempered dick because — make no mistake — he was that.

One summer evening Jim and I came to blows, or rather he lost his temper and beat the shit out of me. I was 16. I suffered a head gash, bleeding all over my white shirt. I was seeing a therapist at the time, and as it happened I had a 7 pm appointment that evening. I told the therapist (who was also a serious dick) what had happened, and he took my dad’s side. He basically said, “Bruises and bloody shirt aside, kids like you are bad news and frankly you deserved it.”

In short, during a single summer evening I became 100% convinced that domestic parental violence was something to be avoided in the future, and that family therapists were not necessarily bringers of profound perception and wisdom.

Why hadn’t I grabbed a drinking glass and smashed it across my dad’s head during our kitchen fist fight? You know, like Joe Pesci does in that Copacabana fight in Raging Bull? I’ll tell you why. Because I was more of a lover (i.e., a movie lover) than a scrapper, plus I was basically too chicken to get seriously violent with my taller, heavier and stronger dad. When the kitchen fracas began I was mainly rope-a-doping — focused on protecting myself. But God, if I could relive that moment right now and if I had a hammer…

A year or two later I happened to watch Clarence Brown‘s Human Hearts, a family drama about a rebellious, independent-minded son (James Stewart) and his stern preacher father (Walter Huston). Huston has slapped Stewart around a few times, but prior to a fresh altercation Stewart tells him, “If you hit me, pop, I’m going to defend myself.” They tussle and Huston winds up giving Stewart another beating.

That was not the outcome I was hoping for.

Until last night I had somehow never read about James Garner‘s violent fight with his stepmother, Wilma. His alcoholic father married Wilma when the future movie star was five, in 1933. From the get-go Wilma was a “nasty bitch,” Garner recalled. His brother Jack later called her “a damn no-good woman.” Wilma would scold and beat Garner, and whenever he crossed the line Wilma would make him wear a dress and call him Louise. James finally had it out with Wilma in ’42, when he was 14. She came at him and he pushed back, finally “choking her to keep her from killing him in retaliation.”

Give her what for, Jimbo!

One way or another parents often manage to fuck their kids up. They brutalize and leave scars.

My son Dylan is currently back to regarding me as a dick in somewhat the same way that I regarded my dad long ago. (The difference is that I was 16 and Dylan is 32.) But in my late 20s as I sucked all that in and said “okay, that happened” and decided to cut my father a break, especially after he entered AA and apologized for his poor parenting skills and whatnot, explaining as honestly as he could that he just wasn’t cut out for being a good dad.

N.Y. Post article, posted today [8.10]: “Canadian rock guitarist Gord Lewis was found dead in his Hamilton, Ontario home on Sunday after he was allegedly murdered by his own son. Jonathan Lewis, 41, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder as the Hamilton Police Department continues to investigate the case, according to local reports.”

I would love to see a short film about Garner and Wilma’s relationship, ending with the strangle slapdown.